Five First-Cut Takeaways from the February 2017 UT/Texas Tribune Poll

by Jim Henson

The Texas Tribune published stories all week long on the February 2017 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, and we’ll be mulling and writing about the results in the coming weeks. Ross Ramsey wrote stories about it all week long, bless his heart. But here are some first takes to end the week. We’ve posted many graphics at the latest poll page at the Texas Politics Project website — we’ll post data files soon.

1. Texans come around to Donald Trump. In the first public statewide poll to test assessments of Donald Trump in his new role as president, familiar partisan patterns abound. Any suspicion that the lukewarm enthusiasm toward Trump evident in October 2016, when Trump was viewed favorably by 60 percent of Republicans (compared to Clinton’s 74 percent favorable rating among Democrats) was dispelled by the February results, in which Trump’s favorable ratings rose 21 percentage points. Democratic unfavorable ratings remained pretty much unchanged.

For more crosstabs of Trump’s favorability rating in the most recent poll, see the interactive chart in Texas Politics Project polling section.

2. Vouchers by any other name are still a hard sell in Texas. The results from our education battery provide useful context for the current tensions in the Texas legislature over school vouchers, choice, scholarships, etc. School vouchers, called exactly that, are tied with reducing the number of tests as the measures seen as most effective by Republicans. Yet the share of Republicans that think increasing spending, either in the system overall or targeted to teachers, actually slightly exceeds the share that favors vouchers. It’s not surprising that a Senate prioritizing a voucher-by-another-name approach and a House searching for ways to re-approach school funding seem at loggerheads. There is a constituency for each in their party. The two items that probe opinions on vouchers reveal an interesting facet of Republican responses to subject. When we use the term voucher in the context of the potential for improving public education in Texas, Republicans embrace the idea by a wide margin (61%-19%), amidst the predictable level of Democratic opposition (32%-51%).

But when we ask about the underlying policy of voucher or voucher-like programs — redirecting state tax revenue to parents to pay for private or parochial schools — Republican support drops (46%-33%) amidst even deeper Democratic opposition, and other cleavages (like the urban-rural divide) are more activated. The results suggest that the determination among voucher advocates to purge the use of the word “voucher” is aimed more at gaining non-Republican support. They also illustrate the rationale for legislatively tortuous efforts to build a policy that attempts to redirect dollars destined for the state before they are actually taken in as public funds.

3. Transgender access is not be the priority for the public is it for Lt. Governor Patrick, even among Republicans. The terrain on this issue shifted again this week with the Trump administration’s rollback of the Obama administration’s directives on protections for transgender students. The prospects of SB 6, the Lt. Governor’s favored bill, are the subject of much debate. Josh Blank and I recently argued that public opinion is still a work in progress on the bundle of issues surrounding the rights of transgender people to access public facilities of their choosing, and the February results reinforce this argument. On one hand, a majority (54%) still express the view that birth gender should govern access to public restroom facilities. But almost as many people (50%) say it’s not important that the legislature move to regulate transgender access to public restrooms — including a slim majority of Republicans who say it’s not important (i.e. 49% say it’s not important, with 44 saying it is important).

There is a thread-the-needle move here for pro-regulation Republicans on this issue, who may be able to get credit from like-minded voters for talking (loudly) about this issue, even if they don’t ultimately succeed in passing a bill. The key will be knowing when to stand down, so as not to alienate voters who agree with the general stance but don’t think it’s important to prevent the legislature from doing things they think are more important.

4. Governor Greg Abbott remains the most well-known and widely liked Republican in the state — despite what you may be hearing in Austin or reading in some venerable political newsletters.

5. Not surprisingly, many Texans don’t have much of an opinion on the rainy day fund. But they can be convinced to spend it. Those who express an opinion are willing to dip into it if the state is faced with budget cuts. Also unsurprising, given baseline fiscal attitudes and the likely targets of cuts, Democrats are more willing than Republicans.

But those who identify with the Tea Party appear to make up the core of the majority of Republicans who oppose it; when you break out the Tea Party Republicans from the non-Tea Party Republicans, a majority of the non-Tea Party GOP (37–33) okays it, with almost a third undecided. Sounds like a situation in which statewide Republicans might be expected to be reading up on the art of the deal.

Media extra: Daron Shaw, Ross Ramsey, and I sat down Thursday afternoon to chat about the February UT/Texas Tribune Poll for a special extra edition of the Texas Tribune’s podcast (while Josh Blank continued to refine the art of parenthood, or he’d have been there, too). Thanks to the Trib’s Todd Wiseman and Bobby Blanchard for production help, though I don’t think my warm up singing was really a necessary inclusion.


Originally published at texaspolitics.utexas.edu on February 24, 2017.